Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Richard Bartle and Scott Jennings have very different opinions about the quality of Stranglethorn Vale, whether it is one of the best or one of worst zones in World of Warcraft. I'm trying to find a good expression like "discussing the stable door after the horse has bolted", to describe a discussion which is good, but somewhat late, considering the median player level nowadays. Anyway, I decided to leave the two to it, and only pick up one tiny bit from the discussion: The quest Tigole himself admits having created and being the "worst quest in the game", Green Pages of Stranglethorn.
The problem with that quest is that it takes up a lot of inventory slots, and that back in a time where people were running around with 12-slot bags. Basically an inventory slot has a value, which is the opportunity cost of not being able to pick up some other loot, and the value of the sum of inventory slots used by that quest was higher than the value of the quest reward.
But if we take a step backwards, and look at the World of Warcraft inventory situation from a wider angle, we notice that Stranglethorn pages are just one symptom of a bigger problem: The WoW inventory system is slot based. You are limited by how many *stacks* of items you can carry, not by anything more logical, like size or weight. A Stranglethorn page takes up exactly the same inventory page as a plate mail chest piece of loot. A stack of metal bars or ore takes up as much inventory as a stack of herbs. But that is just one of several possible inventory systems used in various RPGs, and none of them are really perfect. There are more realistic weight-based systems, but those often don't use slots at all, and end up with your bags being a jumble of overlapping icons in which finding anything is a challenge. Then there are systems with a grid, which are basically limited by size, with a potion or page just taking 1x1 spaces on the grid, and the plate armor 2x3 spaces. Those often end up with you playing a Tetris-like subgame of sorting items in your inventory to fill up the grip with no holes. The best inventory systems are usually found in various space games. Every item has a weight (or a size, or both), and as long as you are under the total weight limit, you can pick up whatever you want. That enables the game to give you things like pages with zero weight and no inventory problems. Another extreme is games like Free Realms where your inventory is bottomless, and there are no restrictions whatsoever to how much stuff you can carry around. Which makes sense when the game is trying to make money by selling you stuff.
A weight-based inventory system would also allow a travel system which depends on the weight you are carrying. You could make transports like teleports and flying mounts have a weight limit, so adventurers with just whatever gear and consumables they'd need for adventuring would be able to travel fast. But transporting large amounts of trade goods, like metal bars, would have to be done in a slower way. Once you have that, you can have local resources and local auction houses, with an opportunity to make money by transporting goods from A to B. Such systems are pretty common in space ship games like EVE Online, or games based on wooden ships and oceans, but extremely rare in fantasy MMORPGs.
I'm not suggesting World of Warcraft to change its inventory system, it is way too late for that. But I've noticed an annoying tendency of newer games to simply copy various sub-systems of World of Warcraft without thinking about the consequences. Even something seemingly as simple as an inventory system, and whether players are limited by number of items, weight of items, size of items, or a combination thereof, can make a big difference to how a game ultimately plays out. Do you want to limit what the players can carry? And if yes, why, and by what criteria? Is your inventory system just a clever ploy to get people to go back to the nearest city after some time of adventuring, to sell loot? Or does it enable other modes of gameplay, like a career as a trader?